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The Hollywood Front

June 2024
1min read

When the Stars Went to War: Hollywood and World War II

by Roy Hoopes, Random House, 357 pages .

World War II may have produced more challenging roles for Hollywood stars than an army of producers could ever have dreamed up. David Niven stoically flew back to England, Jimmy Stewart became a combat flier, and Henry Fonda eagerly joined the Navy. The Treasury Department called on celebrities to sell war bonds: Hedy Lamarr sold kisses for $25,000 apiece; the less kissable Charles Laughton set up three coffins marked “Hitler,” “Hirohito,” and “Mussolini” for people to drive nails into “at the cost of one $18.75 bond per nail.” Hollywood also created immensely successful wartime shows; the tireless USO did 428,521 live performances. Everyone was eager to contribute. Even Lucille Ball, in a fittingly absurd incident, reported to the FBI when she heard suspicious noises coming from her new tooth filling. Investigators discovered a transmitter nearby “belonging to a gardener who was, indeed, part of a Japanese spy ring.”

The author has a line on almost everyone in When the Stars Went to War . He generously—and frankly—dishes out sublime details about the filmworthy scandals and impulsive affairs peculiar to Hollywood life during wartime, such as Marlene Dietrich’s liaison with General Patton. But Hoopes also points up the uneasiness many actors felt about having to translate their on-screen hero roles into real life. John Wayne—exempt from service because of a bad shoulder—sulked his way through a meeting with the director and Navy man John Ford; John Garfield was humiliated by his 4-F status. Errol Flynn, who did everything possible to avoid the draft, was then cast in Objective, Burma! , a film in which he wins the war single-handedly. Clearly, Hollywood’s glitter and the war’s very real grit were a strange but transfixing combination.

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